Best residential VoIP phone service
It's true that your mobile phone is always with you, but you may not always want to rely on it, as everyone who's ever had a dropped call knows. You can, of course, still get a landline number from your local telephone or cable operator—Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and the rest. But you can do better. You can use a lower-cost voice-over-IP (VoIP) service that takes advantage of your broadband Internet connection for your phone service. VoIP services also offer some nifty calling and voicemail features beyond just a reliable connection for your home or small business. Finally, there are even some higher-end business-grade VoIP services for larger companies.
You can still get a landline number from your local telephone or cable operator—Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and the rest. But you can do better than that: You can use a lower-cost VoIP service that takes advantage of your broadband Internet connection for your phone service.
VoIP is usually very simple to set up. You get a box or special phone adapter unit from the service provider, plug it into power, your Internet router, and a standard telephone handset. An alternative that's becoming less common is to purchase a SIP phone, which includes electronics enabling it to sidestep the need for the adapter.
The price differences between VoIP and standard landline services are indeed significant. For example, in the New York area, a Verizon Freedom Value plan that includes unlimited local and long-distance calling costs $59.99 per month. AT&T does better, with an AT&T U-verse Voice Unlimited plan in Wisconsin costing $35 a month, but there's a catch—you can't get it without adding at minimum a $14.95 per month Internet plan.
So you're looking at upwards of $50 just for landline service from the traditional Ma Bell duopoly. VoIP services cut that monthly bill significantly. A Vonage line will run you $9.99 the first year and $26.95 thereafter. A newer player, PhonePower, will get you unlimited U.S. and Canada service for $14.95 per month with a 2-year commitment. And you can get unlimited U.S. and Canada calling with Skype, plus an inbound phone number for just $7.95 per month.